Born to a Baptist minister and Caribbean immigrant, Malcolm Little was raised Christian but immersed in Garveyism. Garveyism is the beliefs and ideas taught by Marcus Garvey. Ideas such as African Americans being too dependent on white people. Garvey also taught that Africans/African Americans needed a physical spiritual home in Africa. Both of Malcolm Little’s parents were devout Garveyites and Little’s father would travel around the country and preach about Marcus Garvey’s teaching. The Little’s passed these beliefs to their children and would often take them to different conferences and events that the Universal Negro Improvement Association hosted. The Little’s took an afrocentric perspective of Garvey’s beliefs which lead to them receiving backlash from white people in their community and the KKK. Due to violent attacks such as their house being fire bombed twice, the family relocated three times.
This aggression escalated rapidly. In 1931, J Earl Little, Malcolm Little’s father, was viciously attacked and murdered. Earl Little was brutally attacked and then tossed on train tracks to be run over by a streetcar. After the death of his father, Malcolm Little’s life had a radical transformation. His mother began letting him and his siblings attend several different religious services in order for them to expand their exposure to different religions. Although Malcolm Little and his siblings were exposed to many diverse religions, their mother advised them to remain independent and to continue believing in God. As this occurs, Malcolm’s mother becomes stressed to the point where she couldn’t keep a job. She eventually lost custody of all her children. In his new foster home, Malcolm Little became exposed to the black Pentecostal church. Then Little got transferred to a detention center in a majority white area and he attended a white church.
While in foster care, Little began a life of delinquency. Which caused his older half-sister to step in and take care of him. This led to Little becoming immersed in the dark city life of Boston. Little became overwhelmed by the city and got engrossed in a new life of crime. This led to Little becoming in prisoned with a sentence of 10 years for burglary. While serving his sentence, Little’s brother Reginald visited with him and enlightened him of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm Little became intrigued and started studying the teachings of Elijah Muhammad who was the leader of the Nation at the time. When Little was paroled in 1952 after serving seven years, Malcolm Little dropped his surname, which he considered his slave name, for X to represent his lost tribal name.
Once Malcolm X was paroled, he went to work with his brother in Detroit. X worked in a furniture store and joined Temple Number One. Malcolm X’s work within the Temple began after he attended a conference held by Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. Muhammad tasked X with the job of raising temple attendance and Malcolm X jumped at the opportunity. Soon after X became a minister and was sent across the country to establish more temples. In 1954, Malcolm X was appointed minister of Temple Number Seven in New York City. About 5 years later, Malcolm became the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X began giving more and more interviews and speeches. Soon after, there was a movie released called “The Hate that Hate Produced” which depicted the Nation of Islam and Muslims as angry black people who hated white people. This movie also showed young black men practicing martial arts and children learning a completely different history than that of the average white child. This movie thrusted the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X into the Civil Rights movement.
Malcolm X began preaching about separation between white people and black people which was very controversial to many other African American civil rights leaders. Several years later, the split between Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X was becoming more and more apparent. In early 1963, Malcolm X caught wind of some rumors about Muhammad so he traveled to Arizona where Muhammad retired to due to some health issues. When X arrived, Muhammad confirmed these rumors and X was very disappointed however when X returned to New York, he continued to preach about the Nation of Islam. After Malcolm X was silenced by Elijah Muhammad after the assassination of JFK, he began to receive death threats and according to Alex Haley, an author who was tasked with co writing Malcolm’s autobiography, X was physically and mentally exhausted. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X announced his split from the Nation of Islam. Soon after Malcolm X took the pilgrimage to Mecca and noticed that all races and ethnicity from all over the world united together to take this journey. Malcolm X also learned on this journey that in Saudi Arabia, the word “white” referred to skin color, whereas in the United States the word “white” is racially charged. As Malcolm X returned from his Hajj or pilgrimage, he took on a new name, El Hajj Malik el Shabazz. Malcolm had returned a changed man with a different mission, however, he never got the opportunity to teach that message. As Malcolm X began his speech for change, he was assassinated by 3 unknown assailants.
Decaro, Louis A. On the Side of My People: a Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York University Press, 1998.
Myers, Walter Dean. Malcolm X: by Any Means Necessary. Scholastic, 1999.